Picking a new Maui chief of police is an opportunity for improvement – both inside and outside the department. Response to our last article has been informative but unfortunately off the record. So this will serve more as an opinion piece expressing the consensus of these off-the-record contacts.
Making MPD a better place to work:
Recurring themes are sexual harassment within the department, bullying and reprisals against officers who speak out on these. What steps can be taken to make MPD a more equitable and welcoming place to work?
Responsibility for taking proactive steps rests with the Chief. Each candidate for the position should explain his or her plan for ending bullying, harassment and reprisals. Obviously the old way is not working. Will continuing the old administration fix this problem?
MPD personnel are prohibited from speaking directly to journalists. Every contact must go up the chain of command and be approved by the Chief. This is a wise policy when it comes to active cases. Investigative strategy requires withholding some information. But when the issue at hand is the treatment of MPD employees, this serves to squash any investigation into complaints and thus any resolution of the problems that appear to be widespread in the department.
The Police Commission is tasked with oversight but very little has been disclosed regarding disciplinary action. What programs the commission instituted to make sure that MPD operates in an equitable fashion? None to date. Perhaps an ombudsman? Perhaps more public transparency in disciplinary actions in order to make sure they aren’t retaliatory? Better oversight must come from the top and candidates should asked to explain their plans prior to be chosen.
Making MPD more transparent to the public:
The Police Commission meets in what appears to be a bunker (but is actually the Chief’s meeting room.) For the public to attend meetings, they have to go through security and sit in a windowless room deep within the police station, outnumbered by the police. The Commission, unlike the City Council, has no binders of information available for press and public to understand agenda background. In fact, there seems to be a concerted effort to discourage public participation and close ranks against the media.
It takes a determined citizen to to even get in the room so it’s not surprising that few members of the public attend the monthly commission meetings. What will the commission and the new chief do to make the meetings more accessible?
Perhaps the commission doesn’t realize that they are in charge and can schedule meetings in one of the county buildings more welcoming to public participation. So first off, they need to schedule the meetings in an open and more easily accessible location outside of the police station.
The public is entitled to know more about the candidates qualifications There is still time to post this information on line prior to the executive session interviews.
The commission needs to start being inquisitive and exercising oversight.
The Commission is responsible to the public and acts as the public’s watchdog over the police department. To date, they have not done this job with much enthusiasm. This is not surprising given the isolation from the public in which they operate.
Choosing a Chief who will work with media
MPD has an undeserved reputation for bungling some investigations which stems more from a lack of effective public communication than reality. The new chief should welcome and use opportunities to interact with the media and the public. An example of a lost opportunity was the February 2014 Kihei Community Association meeting which, when MPD heard the public would attend to demand answers in the Carly Scott case, precipitated a hastily scheduled press conference.
The Chief could have been proactive and scheduled this long before. That would have changed public perception and built confidence. The belated press conference did do this and serves an example that should be followed more often (and earlier.)
It is ironic that one of the most frequently used method of communicating emergency information on Maui is a Facebook page started by Neldon Mamuad who was subject to disciplinary action for creating the page and thereby “harassing” a police officer. (The County later settled the suit in Mamuad’s favor.) Which brings us to…
MPD should stop getting the County sued over the First Amendment
Twice the Court has found MPD to be violating First Amendment rights, first by preventing peace activists from holding signs on the sidewalk, and second by preventing a citizen from handing out religious pamphlets on the sidewalk.
Whoever is chosen as chief should understand that the U.S. Constitution is the highest document and that the department should protect First Amendment expression rather than repressing it. To be fair, the police have done an excellent job with the many thousands on the “March Against Monsanto” protests and others. So the new chief should continue this low-key policing of demonstrations.
Stop the “bunker” mentality
Earlier reference was made to the “bunker” in which the Police Commission meets. Years ago when Maui was less populous, most people had friends on the police force. There was an easy give and take and friendly relations between citizens and officers. With the influx of new residents, many of whom don’t immerse themselves in local cultural and social events, we’re seeing the number of people without ties to our MPD officers grow. Thankfully, we’re not a Ferguson where the department appears completely out of touch with the citizens. Our department is still comprised of our friends and neighbors.
The new chief needs to take steps now to reach out to the public and make sure the entire population feels affinity with the department. That means more public events that bring officers and citizens together in a welcoming manner.
What a lost opportunity: We built the new Kihei substation but where’s the public invitation to tour?
With more frequent and friendly opportunities for public-police contact, the us-against-them bunker mentality will dissipate. The new chief should be willing to create these opportunities.